The Best (And Worst) Fans Of The Euros So Far

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We’re just about halfway through the tournament, and already some pundits have called Euro 2016 one of the more disappointing competitions in recent memory. Teams that were hyped up before the tournament don’t seem to have delivered the spark expected of them, with Germany in particular looking pedestrian. Some have also pointed out the low scoring nature of this year’s tournament, with only 73 goals scored over the first 39 games. Although that sounds like a lot, that number was exceed after only 25 games in the last significant international tournament, Brazil 2014.

It’s likely that when future generations look back on documentations of Euro 2016, they’ll read as much about the fans of the tournament as the quality of the football on display. For the past month, fans from around the continent have hit the newspaper pages just as much as the teams they support, being splashed on front and back pages for both positive and negative reasons.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to stay one step ahead of the football historians, and look at two of the best (and two of the worst) groups of supporters we’ve seen so far, with images courtesy of Stay Sourced.

BEST

Republic of Ireland

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Back in 2012, the boys in green had statistically one of the worst Euros performances of all time, dropping out in the group stages with 0 points and a -8 goal difference. Not much was expected of the Republic of Ireland this year, but with O’Neill and Keano at the helm it’s safe to say that the team did far better than what anyone expected of them, especially considering the tough group they were placed in.

But enough about the team, because it’s the Irish fans that have been the real stars of the tournament. For a few weeks, the press at home, in the UK, and across the continent was filled with

almost biblical stories depicting Irish fans as Christ-like figures, travelling the country performing good deeds wherever they went. Amongst the miracles performed include singing to a nun, serenading a baby to sleep on a tram, helping to change a tyre, and even cleaning up after themselves. Ireland’s fans were so well behaved (and well liked) that the French public have officially voted them the best visiting fans of the tournament.

Wales

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Much like Ireland, Wales weren’t really expected to do anything other than turn up at this tournament, with patronising pundits repeating the old cliché that they’d just be “happy to be there”. Naysayers have soon been proved wrong, with the championship first timers fast becoming the only home nation left competing. Even more surprising is that Wales have arguably played some of the more entertaining matches of the tournament, although that could just be a reflection on the wider quality of football being played.

Welsh fans have proved themselves adept at the whole Euros thing too, although the 18602 miles individual fans travelled to qualify may have given them some experience. Again, like Ireland, it’s always a good sign when a team’s fans are actively praised by the police of the home country, with the Gendarmes praising the friendliness of the visiting Dragons. Samaritan like deeds have been widely documented on social media, with Welsh fans pictured helping a lost boy find his dad being just one example. Bale has praised supporters too, calling them the team’s 12th man after their victory to Slovakia.

Worst

Russia

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The Russian team carried out potentially some of the worst performances of the tournament, fielding a team that looked to be actively accepting of failure. When your only consolation is snatching a victory against a similarly abject looking England, then there’s probably something going wrong.

The only defence that can be given is that Russia’s behaviour on the pitch wasn’t half as bad as the behaviour of the fans off it. Although they couldn’t make themselves well known through the quality of football played, Russia’s support soon became the talking point of the tournament, smashing up bars, cars, and town squares with glee. Fans were accused of travelling with the sole intention of causing trouble, something that Go pro footage would seem to confirm. Although Russia were handed a suspended disqualification and a €150,000 fine, this isn’t likely to deter a minority of fans who seem more interested in replicating tired old hooligan clichés than watching football. With the world cup heading to Russia in 2018, the next couple of years of international football look set to be a riot.

England

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Poor old England. Every tournament seems to start and end in the same way, but the media, fans, and players never seem to learn. Pre-tournament things looked pretty optimistic for the three Lions, with a young squad causing talk of a new “golden generation”. However, as the tournament went on England looked ever more nervous, eventually bowing out in the only way that an England side seems to know how.

With performances as bad as Englands, it’s hard to blame the fans for their behaviour. Much like their team, supporters of the three Lions delivered a classic English away performance this year. Excessive alcohol consumption? Check. Offensive chanting? Check. Damage of property? Check. It was almost as if fans had got stuck in a time warp on the way to Marseille and been spat out in 1998. Of course, all English fans weren’t to blame for all of the trouble, and it’s acknowledged now that in many cases local and visiting ultras were the provocation for a minority of the support. However, that doesn’t excuse talk of fans taunting local children, or commiserating a defeat by fighting amongst themselves.

Images courtesy of Stay Sourced – head over to their Battle of the Fans to view more stats on the fans and teams of Euro 2016.

Moussa Dembele Starts New Celtic Era Off With A Bang!

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Celtic today announced new manager Brendan Rodgers had made his first signing by bringing in young French hot-shot Moussa Dembele from Fulham.

It’s a real coup for the Scottish champions as he arrives after his contract expired with the English Championship side, meaning that the Hoops will only need to fork out around £500k in compensation for the striker. That’s a bargain price for a player who Tottenham Hotspur bid £6m for in January and who was reportedly interesting Arsene Wenger and Arsenal earlier in the summer.

But Rodgers has stolen a march on the rest of those interested in Dembele and tied him down. The attacker will believe that he can break into the Celtic starting eleven straight away and have a chance to shine in the Champions League.

That kind of exposure will only benefit the player, who impressed last term with his seventeen goals for the Cottagers.

The nineteen year old has put pen to paper on a four year deal, which means that Celtic will be hoping that he stays in Glasgow for at least two years and impressing richer sides who will then splash the cash for his services when the time is right.

I know that it seems to be in bad taste to suggest a club the size of Celtic are a stepping stone for a youngster like Dembele but that’s where we are at the moment with Scottish football. Plus to be honest surely it’s better to see young talent develop into stars, rather than continually sign ageing veterans who hold little to no transfer value and who have lost their legs or/and ambition.

Pus let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, Celtic fans should just wait and see what type of player they’ve signed, then enjoy what they see. Moussa has been selected ten times for the French under-19 team and returned with five goals. He is a goalscoring forward who has both strength and pace. He is also composed in front of goal, which is sometimes unusual for one so young.

At Fulham, Moussa enjoyed a strong striking partnership with Scottish forward Ross McCormack. That should mean that Brendan Rodgers will partner Dembele with Leigh Griffiths and if they can gel, then the rest of Scottish football could be worried about having to face the deadly duo.

When I saw that Celtic were interested in Moussa Dembele, I’m not going to lie I scoffed. I really didn’t think that they could beat off stiff competition from top European sides to get him up to Glasgow. But well done to the deal makers at Parkhead, they’ve managed to bring in Brendan Rodgers first signing and it’s a statement signing too.

Hopefully Moussa will go on and reach his potential at Celtic Park and bring in lots of foreign press and scouts to our game. It shows that with some smart thinking Scottish sides can still find gems and bring them to our league!

EURO 2016: Eden’s Return To Form Should Provide Wales With A Hazard Warning!

Belgium Hazard

Belgium ran out impressive 4-0 winners last night against a Hungarian team that had done well previously in Euro 2016. The outstanding performance from Belgian captain Eden Hazard would have raised a few eye-brows, especially in the Welsh camp.

Wales will now taken on the Belgians in the quarter-final stage of the competition on Friday night.

Against Hungary you could see that Hazard was looking more and more like the world class creative force we knew he could be at this tournament. As the Hungarians tried to find a way back into the game after Toby Alderweireld headed home the opener after just ten minutes, Hazard kept on finding more space and always looked dangerous on the ball.

In the seventy-eighth minute Hazard beautifully beat his man on the lefthand side and picked out substitute striker Michy Batshuayi free inside the penalty area to tap in Belgium’s second of the game. His run and cross were majestic and showed his true qualities as a vibrant attacking threat.

Then a minute later, Eden once again picked up the ball on the left. He then cut in onto his right foot, evaded two challenges and expertly curled the ball past Hungarian goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly. You could see that he had finally arrived at these European Championships, is ready to step up for his country and play with a smile on his face.

If he can keep turning the style on like that, then Belgium must fancy securing a spot in this summer’s final (They’re in the favourable side of the draw after all). Hazard is starting to play with that swagger that helped Chelsea to the Premier League title in 2015. He is one of those players that can change a game in an instant with a superb pass, run or goal!

wales v belgium

The odds above have been taken from Bet365 and show that the Belgian’s will be priced as favourites for this encounter. They have kept three cleansheets in their last three games and have other star forwards in Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne who can also be match winners.

But Wales can take heart in the fact that a well organised Italian team managed to nullify the Belgian attacking threat and beat them 2-0 in their opening group game. The Welsh obviously also have a world class attacker in Gareth Bale and let’s not forget that he won the match the last time these two teams met in the qualifiers.

Wales boss Chris Coleman has upped the pressure on his opponents by stating:

“if you have a squad with that quality then any team you play against, apart from maybe two of three, Belgium are favourites.”

But I think if Belgium’s quality can shine through on Friday night in Lille (Hazard’s former footballing home) then not even Gareth Bale can prevent Eden Hazard and Co in their march for the European crown!

Liverpool’s Move For Sadio Mané Could Catapult Them Into Top Four Challengers

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It has been reported that forward Sadio Mané will undergo a medical at Liverpool today after the Merseyside club had a bid in excess of £30m accepted from Southampton.

It could be a fantastic signing for Jurgen Klopp as he reshapes his squad and gets them ready for a tilt at a top four finish next season, maybe they can even challenge for the Premier League title.

In Mané, Klopp has identified a proven Premier League match winner and one who will fit into his system.

Like so many modern day managers Jurgen likes players who can play in various positions, who have plenty of pace and also possess a direct approach that often has opposition defences playing on the back foot.

Last term for the Saints, the Senegal international bagged fifteen goals for his club (in all competitions) and six assists. In his last five appearances of the season he produced six goals and that also included a hat-trick against Manchester City!

Klopp saw Sadio’s class and attributes first hand as his two goals against Liverpool helped secure Southampton a 3-2 win over the Reds back in March. He also scored, provided an assist and won the man of the match award in his teams 3-1 away win against Chelsea last season.

So he’s certainly a player capable of stepping up and performing in the big games!

Looking at the current Liverpool side, I’d imagine that Mané would come in on the right wing and take Adam Lallana’s place in the first eleven. He certainly offers more than Lallana and is also more consistent.

Even though Sadio played more centrally for Southampton during the last campaign, he actually scored more when he started out on the right-wing.

Opposition sides will be slightly fearful to travel to Anfield and face the creative trio of Philippe Coutinho (left), Roberto Firmino (attacking centre) and Mané (right) playing behind either Divock Origi or Daniel Sturridge. No doubt the three behind the frontman will interchange at various points and cause markers an infinite amount of headaches.

Unlike the two Brazilians, Sadio Mané will also add extra strength to Liverpool’s attack.

At twenty-four years of age the Senegalese forward is only getting better after each season and hasn’t rushed his career in the hope of a gigantic move as soon as possible.

As a teenager he left school at fifteen in the hope of making it as a professional footballer and was soon spotted FC Metz. He’d spend one full season in Ligue 2 before moving to Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg in 2012, in a €4m deal.

In Austria he’d stay for two full seasons and score thirty-one league goals in sixty-three matches. He would also help ‘Die Roten Bullen’ to a league and cup double in 2014. That form and potential was enough to convince Southampton to spend over £10m on him in the summer of 2014.

It has proven to be money well spent and his flamboyant and dynamic performances have helped cement Southampton as a top half side in the Premier League with Man United chasing his signature last summer.

I honestly think this is a great move for Liverpool and is a big statement that things will be done properly under Jurgen Klopp.

They won’t be waiting around as other sides do their business first. Nor will they rush into panic buys that don’t fit into the manager’s tactical system.

Now all the German coach needs to do is sort out new recruits for the backline and that probably should start with a more defensive minded left-back that can challenge Alberto Moreno for that starting position.

Should that happen, then I can’t see why Liverpool can’t get back into the well sought after top four places!

 

 

 

Premier League 2016/17 Preview

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The European Championship and Copa America may be currently taking centre stage in the football world, but the release of the fixture list ahead of the 2016/2017 season has reminded everyone that the start of the Premier League is just around the corner. It promises to be one of the most intriguing and exciting seasons in years, with all eyes on Leicester City to see if their fairytale story includes another chapter in which they successfully defend their crown against an inevitable backlash from the big guns.

Claudio Ranieri’s side surpassed all expectations by storming their way towards the title against all the odds, with Leicester enjoying a remarkable rise from relegation contenders to league winners. You cannot take anything away from their remarkable achievement, but with Leicester set to compete on four fronts, it remains to be seen if lightning strikes twice for the Foxes. Coral certainly do not believe that Leicester will defend the title in the latest football betting odds, but if Ranieri is able to bring in top quality players and manage to persuade Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante to stay at the King Power Stadium, then there is no reason to write Leicester off.

High-profile managerial changes in Manchester have made a big difference to their title chances, with City installed as favourites to come back strongly after a rather indifferent campaign under Manuel Pellegrini. Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne were undoubtedly their standout players when Manchester City hit top form, but without captain Vincent Kompany at the back they were defensively vulnerable and conceded a number of poor goals as they failed to find any sort of consistency. Pep Guardiola will certainly look to address their deficiencies on the pitch by bringing his hugely successful brand of football to the Etihad Stadium, and with the board promising to back their new manager with all the funds he needs to put Manchester City back on track, Ilkay Gundogan will certainly not be the last player to arrive through the doors.

There is no question that the Manchester derbies will carry extra spice next season, with Guardiola’s long-term rival, Jose Mourinho, taking over the reins at Old Trafford after Louis Van Gaal failed to convince the board that he could take the club forward. The “Special One” has a big job on his hands to bring attractive football back to a team that were seen as too passive this season, and although his acrimonious departure from Chelsea left a black mark on his reputation as one of the best managers in world football, Manchester United are convinced that Mourinho is the man to achieve success. Getting one over Guardiola next season is merely on a side note to the work that Manchester United have ahead of them to make up for finishing as low as fifth and therefore failing to qualifying for the Champions League, but being rated as second favourites to win next season’s Premier League title with Coral illustrates a growing belief that they can only get better under Mourinho. A more attractive brand of football, combined with more high-profile signings to go alongside the £30 million acquisition of Ivorian defender Eric Bailly, should stand Manchester United in good stead, and with transfer speculation linking them with a host of top quality players, it could be a very interesting summer at Old Trafford.

North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham will also fancy their chances of mounting a serious title challenge after finishing second and third respectively. The latter had put themselves in a wonderful position to finish ahead of Arsenal for the first time since 1995 after pushing Leicester all the way, but a poor end to their campaign saw Mauricio Pochettino’s side slip down to third. Tottenham certainly lit up the Premier League through a fluent, free-flowing style of football that certainly caught the eye, with Harry Kane and Dele Alli among those who played starring roles, but their lack of cover upfront may have cost them a shot at the title.

The same could be said for Arsenal who may be one of the most attractive sides to watch in England, but Arsene Wenger’s stubbornness and reluctance to spend has often proved costly when injuries and suspensions begin to take their toll. The big-money arrival of Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach may suggest a change in emphasis from Wenger, and if Arsenal are willing to loosen the purse strings even further to make necessary improvements to their squad, then the Gunners could be the team to look out for.

Jurgen Klopp has established solid foundations on which he can build upon as he is set to start his first full campaign in charge of Liverpool, with the former Borussia Dortmund manager making a big difference since replacing Brendan Rodgers last October. They, alongside West Ham and Everton, will hope to follow in Leicester and Tottenham’s footsteps by breaking into the top four and separating the big clubs even further, with the latter of the three on the crest of a wave following billionaire Farhad Moshiri’s takeover and the appointment of Ronald Koeman as their new manager. The same level of excitement is also felt at West Ham, with Slaven Bilic’s men moving to the Olympic Stadium as part of their vision to expand the club’s horizon. They will hope to keep hold of prized asset Dimitri Payet who has taken his wonderful form for West Ham onto the international stage with France, with the 29-year-old taking Euro 2016 by storm through fantastic performances and wonderful goals.

The three promoted clubs from the Championship will hope to follow in Bournemouth and Watford’s footsteps by establishing themselves as a top-flight club, with Burnley, Middlesbrough and Hull City all returning to the Premier League after respective spells in the lower division. All three certainly have the experience and quality to make a good fist of it, but although promotion has provided them with the considerable riches that come via broadcasting and sponsorship deals, they may have to strengthen in the transfer market. Middlesbrough have already been active in signing Ajax winger Viktor Fischer and Colombian centre-back Bernando Espinosa, and if they continue to add good quality players to their squad, then it may leave the likes of Sunderland, Crystal Palace and West Brom looking over their shoulders if they find themselves near the bottom of the table again.

Spurs signing Victor Wanyama Would Be Smart Piece Of Business

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It was obviously to everyone and anyone who watched Tottenham Hotspur’s final few weeks of last season that they needed extra strength in depth to compete for the Premier League title, especially in the holding midfielder department.

So it comes as no surprise that Mauricio Pochettino is about to be reunited with Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama at White Hart Lane.

The defensive middleman is reportedly going to cost Spurs £11m from Southampton. That’s a pretty small fee for a proven performer in the Premier League but it should be noted that the player himself seems desperate to leave for London and only has a year left on his contract. Even still, Daniel Levy will be delighted to sign a player for half the fee he would’ve had to pay for him last summer.

At twenty-four years of age, Victor has still to hit his prime. But he’s already proven himself as a strong and consistent competitor.

Spurs seemed to lack a proper steely presence in the midfield during the title run-in, especially after the suspensions of Dele Alli and Moussa Dembele came into play. Wanayam will add strength and will help to shore things up as he patrols in front of the defence.

After Dembele’s suspension, Ryan Mason was selected in the holding role beside Eric Dier. Unfortunately for Mason he often looked out of his depth and didn’t convince you he was a capable defensive midfielder.

It is a position Wanyama knows extremely well and made his own at Celtic and then at Southampton.

He is definitely more aggressive than someone like Mason, he gets around the grass and isn’t afraid to put in a tackle. Last season he received three red cards and four yellows. That amount of reds isn’t great but he hadn’t picked up a red card in the three seasons before last term.

Wanyama often goes through a season with an 80% or higher passing success rate and we all know that Pochettino likes his players to keep the ball. The Kenyan doesn’t get ambitious with it and won’t provide numerous assists but he knows his role and will just pass it on to a player more capable of providing his side with some creative magic. He’s also not prolific in front of goal but will usually chip in with a goal or two a season.

When I think of Victor Wanyama I often think back to Celtic matches against Barcelona in the Champions League during the 2012-13 season. He gave a disciplined performance throughout both ties and worked tirelessly to protect his defence from Barca’s continued onslaughts. The then twenty year old midfielder even managed to get on the scoresheet with a header doing Celtic’s 2-1 win over the Catalan giants at Celtic Park.

His experience in the Champions League could be vital as Tottenham make a return to that illustrious competition this up and coming season.

Wanyama is also strong in the air which is advantageous both when attacking and defending set-pieces.

Obviously Pochettino took him to Southampton and knows what he can do.

A lot of Spurs fans will view him as a squad player but I doubt he’ll be joining the club with that as being his ultimate goal. He is an ambitious, determined type who always proves himself at every club he’s been at and at every level.

When he gets his chance I expect him to impress in a Tottenham Hotspur jersey and the fans to be surprised by the amount of tackles he wins and interceptions he’ll come away with.

A strong first signing of the summer for Tottenham, Pochettino and Levy.

As N’Golo Kante proved last season, it’s not just the big buys that helps you win trophies.

Euro 2016: Didier Deschamps Got French Team Selection Right!

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It took a bit of time but France finally put Albania to the sword and came out the game as 2-0 victors. The hosts of Euro 2016 are now safely through to the knock-out stages with a game in hand.

Much has been made of French coach Didier Deschamps decision to drop two of his star players; Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann from yesterday’s starting line-up.

I really cannot understand the fuss.

Fair enough if France hadn’t secured the win, I’d get it. I would also understand more if either of the two players had had a terrific opening game against Romania, but they didn’t. Now they weren’t terrible but they also weren’t that good or effective. They were outshone by Dimitri Payet and N’Golo Kante who showed great skill and passion.

Deschamps decided to give Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial starts instead. Both are just twenty years old, surely it’s good giving them a run out against Albania, when the game isn’t vital and help settle them into the competition. That way, if they are needed later on in the tournament then they’ll be more equipped to handle the occasion.

Many will say that yesterday’s starting eleven didn’t work-out and up to a point that is true but lets not forget that it also didn’t work with Griezmann or Pogba in the Romania game. The fact is that football is played over ninety minutes. The French team works hard to breakdown teams and the rewards seem to come when they change tactics and personnel in the last twenty or so minutes.

Also let’s give credit to both Albania and Romania here. They both defended extremely well and even attacked the French. They didn’t freeze under the pressure and lie down to the home side.

Now both Griezmann and Pogba came on and had an impact on the game. Griezmann stuck away the opening goal with three minutes remaining with a well executed header, while Pogba had a hand in the build up of the two goals for France.

Hopefully this rest will be just the tonic these two stars needed and they can kick on and have great tournaments from here on in.

Plus lets not forget that Deschamps was captain of the French World Cup winning side in 1998. During that tournament manager Aimé Jacquet rotated his attacking players throughout. It keeps things fresh and keeps the squad on their toes.

I expect both Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann to be back in the starting line-up for the final group game against Switzerland. If they play a key role in that match, then I think Deschamps will feel vindicated that his selection policy is working well. I also expect the French boss to make more changes to his side and bring in a few other squad players and give them some minutes on the park.

As I have already said France have won the game and that is all that matters at this stage. I am sure Didier Deschamps will be hoping that they can start winning without such dramatic late winners but he clearly has the belief that in his squad he has enough depth to change things around and get a winner from somewhere. That is surely a positive!

Euro 2016: Team Of The Tournament So Far

Copyright - Andrew Gibney

Copyright – Andrew Gibney

So that’s the first round of fixtures finished at Euro 2016. With that in mind I thought it would be a good idea to select a side that has impressed me.

I have went for a 4-3-3 formation. 

The standout players, so far, have been midfielders with the forwards taking more time to impress. teams like Hungary and Switzerland have impressed greatly as units without maybe a real standout player.

Anyway here is my selection. Feel free to fill up the comments section with any players that I may have missed.

Goalkeeper: Hannes Þór Halldórsson (Iceland)

The Icelandic keeper impressed in his country’s first ever game in a major tournament. The pick of his eight saves, for me, was when he managed to prevent Nani scoring a header from pointblank range early on in the first half.

Was a hero in his homeland for keeping out Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. The forward moaning about Iceland’s defensive style and celebrations was nothing more than petty and petulant. The fact is that he couldn’t find a way of beating thirty-two year old Halldórsson, who always looked calm and composed.

Right-back: Darijo Srna (Croatia)

This is actually Srna’s fourth European Championship and he hasn’t lost any of his durability. A true leader on the park, he once again gave his all for his country against Turkey in what proved to be a tight group opener.

Disciplined at the back and was unlucky not to score in the second half after his freekick hit the crossbar. An experienced pro who shows that class is permanent and was vital as Croatia edged the game.

Left-back: Danny Rose (England) 

Rose thrived going forward against Russia and was one of England’s best outlets when it came to creating chances. His crosses were often dangerous and he probably should have been taking a few of the corners ahead of Harry Kane.

Didn’t have much to do defensively but showed a good enough engine to go back and forth when required. Was left badly exposed for Russia’s goal but I don’t blame him for that. Looks to be a natural successor to Ashley Cole, as long as he continues to improve.

Centre-back: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)

The Italian and Juventus defender is fast becoming one of the world’s best. Once again showed he’s up for any challenge. Times his tackles well and has pace to burn when required.

Obviously the big talking point against the Belgians was his super assist of the Azzurri’s opening goal. Bonucci’s lovely lofted ball delightfully found Emanuele Giaccherini in the box and the rest as they say was history! That pass was Pirlo-esque. But it’s his steely defending that will help Italy to win more games in France.

Centre-Back: Gerard Pique (Spain)

At various times Spain totally battered the Czech Republic but they couldn’t find that illusive goal. That was until the eighty-seventh minute when Gerard Pique ghosted in at the back post to head in the important winner!

The Barcelona man has a strong partnership at the back with Sergio Ramos and it could be that partnership that helps Spain to their third title in a row. Strong and dependable at the back and comfortable in the air or with the ball at his feet, he seemed to breeze through the game. As he proved against the Czechs, he can also cause problems in the opposition penalty area too.

Midfielder: N’Golo Kante (France)

The holding midfielder was the man with the coolest head as his country took time to settle into the opening game. Always there with a tackle or an interception. He also covers so much ground and is the perfect midfield marshall.

Kante also showed continually for the ball and more often than not kept possession for the hosts. Now seems to be the french sides lynchpin!

Midfielder: Toni Kroos (Germany) 

A Rolls Royce type player who always seems to find a teammate with a pass whether it be long or short. Dictated the game against the Ukrainian side and he was rewarded with a fine assist for the world champions opening goal.

His pinpoint accuracy must be a dream for his teammates. Kroos really does have terrific vision and against Ukraine he created five more chances. An integral part of this German side and he proved that in the opening week of the tournament.

Midfielder: Andres Iniesta (Spain)

The Spanish magician turned back the years as he helped orchestrate his country’s win against the Czech Republic. The midfield maestro always showed for the ball and he saw plenty of it. He managed a 90% passing success rate.

As many wondered if Spain could ever break the deadlock, Iniesta never panicked and just kept plugging away and try and find that key pass that would unlock the opposition defence. Finally he pulled the right string and his deft ball in from the edge of the box found Pique, who headed home the winner.

Forward: Arkadiusz Milik (Poland)

A player I picked out before the tournament and I am pleased to say he impressed with his smart runs and his energetic performance. Had a couple of chances in the first half and certainly should have done better with one of them. But he didn’t allow those misses to hamper his enjoyment of the occasion or stop him from trying again.

Was actually more of an attacking threat than Poland’s star turn Robert Lewandowski. Milik finally got on the scoresheet in the second half when he expertly drilled a left foot shot low into the back of the net. It will now be interesting to see if this intelligent forward can continue to outperform his illustrious strike partner.

Forward: Gareth Bale (Wales)

It’s not easy being the poster boy for an entire nation. The pressure seemed to get to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo. But Gareth Bale shone under the spotlight and calmed the Welsh nerves with his first free-kick flying past the Slovakian keeper.

You can see why he’s the talisman for the side, he works hard and has that bit of brilliance only world class stars have in their locker. Great that he charged towards the Welsh dugout after his goal as it showed they are all united and determined to make this chance count!

Forward: Dimitri Payet (France)

What a match winner Payet produced to win the tournaments opening game in Paris last Friday night. Had a fine first touch to get it onto his left foot and then he hit an absolute screamer into the top corner. Showed how much the occasion meant to him, when he went off in tears after his wonder strike!

Showed glimpses of Zizou with majestic pirouettes and one touch passes. Was also a constant danger at set-pieces and with his crosses into the box. Payet also created the French opening goal with his lovely in-swinging left foot cross landed on Oliver Giroud’s head.

Euro 2016: Is Manager Roy Hodgson Really England’s weak link?

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I was very surprised to discover that England’s Roy Hodgson was going to be the best paid coach at Euro 2016.

The England manager earns a staggering £3.5m a year.

That is more than World Cup winning bosses Joachim Low and Vincente Del Bosque. It’s also more than Italy’s Antonio Conte who won three Serie A titles when he was in charge of Juventus. Roy actually earns more than double the wage afforded to Didier Deschamps who is hoping to guide the host nation France to the European title this summer.

England face almost a must not lose fixture against Wales on Thursday. Hodgson earns £3m more than his Welsh counterpart Chris Coleman.

Now Roy’s wage wouldn’t annoy me as much if I thought in some way he justified it. Credit to him and his agent for securing such a generous package.

I’ve been following his career since he was Switzerland’s manager in the early nineties and he’s always been a decent, diligent coach. But he’s never really been seen as a top level gaffer.

His honours in management outside of Scandinavia haven’t been spectacular. In fact at Liverpool he was extremely disappointing as he failed to understand the clubs history or manage the fans expectation levels.

Hodgson is more of a manager that comes in firefights and then gains consistency without going beyond the standard levels that you’d expect. That isn’t a bad thing, most coaches would take being consistently decent but the very best bosses demand and expect much more!

If you look at his record as England boss it kind of proves my point.

He came in when the Three Lions were in turmoil and he settled things down. In the qualification processes he’s consistently done well and got the results needed. He has a 60% win ratio as England manager and that looks to be a healthy record.

But when it counts Roy and his sides seem to come up short, both in terms of his tactics and their performance.

In major finals, Hodgson has been in charge of eight competitive fixtures and he has so far only picked up two wins!

The World Cup in 2014 was a disaster for England. Yes they were in a tough group but in the end they went out without as much as a whimper. Plus don’t forget it was the minnows of the group, Costa Rica,that eventually topped it while the English side finished bottom with only one point to their name. The fact is that England were scared of the Italians and the Uruguayans (and they weren’t even that good) and that fear caused the side to freeze and Roy couldn’t work out away to change that.

That brings us to England’s opening game of Euro 2016 in Marseille on Saturday against Russia.

Now for the most part the English side dominated the game and played well. Once again Roy wanted to go bold with an attack minded selection. The wingback had great games going forward and Eric Dier was a star in midfield.

His inclusion of Raheem Sterling raised a few eyebrows. The youngster has hardly kicked a ball for Man City this year. Looking at him on Saturday night, he clearly wants to prove himself and do well but that often meant he’d try too much and struggled to provide any real threat with his runs or passes. He looks crippled by a fear of underperforming and that then leads to him underperforming. He’d race past a defender and then immediately slow down rather that take advantage of any space he might have had in front of him.

Looking at him, I think he needs a spell on the bench, an am around him and then fling him on with twenty minutes to go.

After finally breaking the deadlock, England struggled to compose themselves and put the game out of sight.

Roy bizarrely brought off his most experienced player in captain Wayne Rooney and brought on Jack Wilshere who is clearly not match sharp. He would have been better to bring off the younger Dele Alli and moved Rooney in behind Harry Kane.

The reason I’d have taken Danny Drinkwater was because he’s more defensive minded, makes more tackles and makes smart passes that relieves pressure on his defence. He’d have been ideal in those circumstances that England faced against Russia. Yet Roy selected five strikers, played only one of them as a striker, another as a central midfielder and didn’t bring on any of the others even though he had one substitute left to make.

That game was also crying out for Jamie Vardy to come on and defend from the front, pressurise the ageing Russian defenders and stretch them with his pace.

England started sitting further and further back as the final whistle approached. Everyone knew coming into the tournament that the English defence was their weakest link. So why try and sit back and hope for the best? Roy needed to be smarter with his end of the game tactics and his substitutes.

I honestly believe that Russia could well be this groups bottom side. So it is worrying that England could neither kill them off nor defend their lead against them.

Again why on earth is Harry Kane, England’s top striker, taking the corners? It makes absolutely no sense and gives the opposition defence a positive advantage as they don’t need to worry about the in form forward.

As the tournament goes on can Roy Hodgson prove once and for all that he is tactically astute enough to turn things around and make England a force in this competition? I’m not so sure. Yes they may get into the knockout stages but can you see them really having enough to beat the best nations in Europe?

At the moment it still looks as though Roy plays too much by year rather than have the right plan for the big games!

I’ll happily apologise if Mr Hodgson proves me wrong!

 

EURO 2016: Can The Unfancied Italians Find A Way To The Final?

Italia

I think only the true die-hard Azzurri fans will be watching the Euros with any hope of Italy doing really well this summer. Most believe that the Italians have no hope of winning their first European title since 1968 and that this squad represents one of their weakest at a major tournament.

Players like Mario Balotelli and Sebastien Giovinco, once heralded as Italy’s next big things, haven’t reached their potential and haven’t made the cut for Euro 2016.

Expectations were also high that Stephan El Shaarawy, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne could be international greats much like Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero and Roberto Baggio before them. But although all three have been selected by Italian coach Antonio Conte, they have still to prove themselves on the international scene. Between them they have managed to amass just forty-one caps and have only returned six goals.

Midfield maestro Marco Verratti, who has shown that he can be a great orchestrator in the middle, unfortunately misses out after having an operation last month. The Azzurri are also missing the energetic Claudio Marchisio from their midfield as he also succumbed to an injury. While superstar Andrea Pirlo has also missed out after Conte decided not to take the veteran magician to France.

In the team, only defensive midfielder Daniele De Rossi (108 Caps/18 Goals) has managed to hit double figures in terms of goals for the national team. It should be noted that the Roma man hasn’t actually scored an international goal since October 2014!

So Italy come into this completion without that iconic number ten star and with a pretty inexperienced offensive department. That could be an issue. Plus coach Conte has already announced that this will be his only tournament as Italy’s boss as he’s taking over at Chelsea after the Euros. Maybe not ideal preparation.

But I believe that Conte still has a squad capable of shocking a few people this summer.

The defensive foundations are once again strong. 

The spine in the defence is made up from the extremely successful Juventus backline. Those players have now won the Scudetto five seasons in a row. Don’t forget that it was Antonio Cinte that started that run with the Turin giants and he knows that these players will run through brick walls for him, if he asked them.

Obviously they still have experienced shot-stopper Gianluigi Buffon in between the sticks. He may be thirty-eight years old now, but the Tuscan native is still a world-class goalkeeper. He’s also a leader and wears the captain’s armband with immense pride. When he speaks the other players listen. As a goalie his mere aura intimidates opponents. His winning experiences could be vital for this slightly inexperienced pool of players.

At Juventus, Antonio Conte would often employ a 3-5-2 formation and he will probably use that formation again with the Azzurri. That will see Juve trio Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chellini play in front of Buffon as the back three. The understanding these players already have with one another should stand Italy in good stead and it could prove to be extremely difficult for opponents to get beyond them.

You’d expect that cleansheets and impressive defensive displays could prove to be crucial if Italy are going to go far in this tournament and that’s why Conte trusts those four stalwarts and soldiers entirely.

De Rossi is another warrior that will be used to marshall in front of the defence and be seen as a leader in the midfield to help those around him. He may no longer be the same player as he was in 2006 but I am sure he can do a disciplined job and lead by example, as he give his all for the teams cause.

If Thiago Motta plays alongside De Rossi in the engine room then you can be guaranteed that the Azzurri are being set up to be as pragmatic as possible. They could be the tournaments spoilers that will win at the back rather than bang the door down with constant attacks. Although Alessandro Florenzi and Emanuele Giaccherini were used beside De Rossi in Italy’s recent win over Scotland.

The model used by Conte against the Scots seemed to be just do enough to beat your opponents. The Italians bossed the game and dictated the play but they never made superiority count more than it needed to.

Unfortunately the thought of Eder and Graziano Pellè as a duo up-top doesn’t really thrill anyone.

Southampton frontman Pellè has a healthy international record of five goals in thirteen caps, including three in the qualifiers. He’s good in the air, works hard, can hold up the ball and can link up play as well. Very good at finishing when the chance presents itself in the sky with either his head or with a volley/half-volley. Scored the winner against Scotland and it was a well taken goal.

This could be a tournament that one of the substitutes shows that they can come off the bench and change things ala Salvatore Schillaci at Italia 90. Insigne, Immobile and Simone Zaza will need to be ready if called upon.

Remember no really fancied the Azzurri back in 2006, but they shocked the world that year and became four time World Cup champions. They actually seem to progress more when the pressure isn’t as intense and expectation isn’t high.

In Conte they have a strong coach that drills his players and seems to get the best out of them. He isn’t all about stars, it’s a unified team that’s willing to die for the shirt that gets his approval.

They might not be the easiest on the eye in France this summer but the Azzurri might just close out a lot of games and maybe even go all the way to the final.

The first test against Belgium later on today, will show us all which Italy Italy has turned up. A good win could settle a few nerves and persuade more people to take the Italians seriously again.